When Octavio Mas-Arocas, of Spanish descent, first arrived at Michigan State University last July to lead the College of Music’s orchestral program, he was a little disappointed. How does a passionate young conductor begin to blow fire into his orchestra if there is no orchestra to conduct? Covid restrictions put a huge drag on his plans.
âIt was very frustrating for everyone in the program. During the first semester it was not possible to meet the musicians. How to conduct an orchestra online? We brought in guest artists for master classes and I taught conducting students, all online.
In the second half of the year, things started to open up. âThe graduate students in ropes started to meet and we did a series of digital concerts. Playing concerts without an audience is not ideal, but it’s much better than not playing at all.
âFor the development of the students, it was very important to have these concerts. We came together to make music during a difficult time, and those first rehearsals were so emotional they made you cry. We all needed them.
The whole music school felt the same. And to add to the frustration over Covid, there were other issues.
After decades of planning and fundraising, the stunning, high-tech new addition to the original music building on the former MSU campus was finally finished and ready for students to fill its halls with music, but Covid has put an end to everything. It was like having a new set of clothes with no place to go.
But now there is excitement in the air. Mas-Arocas will conduct his new symphony orchestra as well as hundreds of concerts presented by the faculty and students of the music college: brass bands, orchestras, chamber music groups, choirs, opera presentations, solo recitals, jazz concerts , guest artists – the 2021-2022 season (aptly called âLive Againâ) will be filled with the live music we’ve all been waiting for since last year.
The new conductor is ready to begin his journey at MSU. âI am dedicated to finding the soul of the orchestra. It is a complex challenge. You have to know who and what you are working with, and you have to match the music with the ensemble and with the community. A conductor should do his research.
He looks forward to bringing more music from living composers. âWe have more composers alive today than at any time in musical history. I will bring new music organically. Step by step. I have an affinity for black composers. There is a teaching moment in there.
âA conductor is a teacher. You must love music, and conductors must constantly learn, seek, and be flexible.
Mas-Arocas has an extraordinarily wide experience. He started with city orchestras in Spain and continued to conduct in large universities and professional orchestras. And he’s no stranger to Michigan. Mas-Arocas is the conductor of the Marquette Symphony Orchestra and was the conductor of the Academy of the Arts in Interlochen (near Traverse City) for four years. And he had great mentors and teachers. He studied with legendary chefs: Harold Farberman, David Zinman and Kurt Masur. Most recently, he was the head of the orchestras at Ithaca College in New York.
The Spaniard’s face lights up when he talks about music and especially when he talks about his hometown of Bunol, which has 10,000 inhabitants, in the south-east of Spain. âI owe a lot to the city where I grew up.
The driver explains that to earn a living there, you either had to work in the concrete factory or be a farmer. His father was a factory man. But besides the farms and the factory, Bunos is also known for its harmony orchestras.
âThe groups have a huge influence all over the city. In 1850, the railway began to serve Buno, and the town’s elders wanted to organize a big party with an orchestra. The problem was that there were no musicians. Much like âThe Music Man,â the mayor went out to buy instruments and uniforms and created a great band to perform for the occasion. And that has created a huge tradition of quality music in Buno.
Today most kids take after school classes and when they get older they play in one of two bands nicknamed The Uglies (they don’t look like movie stars) or the Liters (they like to drink ). Competition is fierce between these two musical groups.
They never socialize together and (heaven forbid) marry someone from the opposite group. But the performance level of both bands is very high. It is similar to the famous musical program El Sistema in Venezuela which produced Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Buno’s other claim to fame is his hugely popular “La Tomatina” festival, where thousands of visitors come to town to engage in a massive, messy tomato fight.
âBecause of the high acid content in tomatoes, we have the cleanest streets in the world after the fire hoses do their job,â says Mas-Arocas.
The fiery Mas-Arocas first played the trumpet in one of the city’s orchestras, and when he was 16 the conductor fell ill and they needed someone to replace him. . On a lark, Mas-Arocas shouted that he would, without any knowledge of the direction.
But the magic happened. âWhen I stepped on the podium and conducted the first play, I knew that was what I wanted to do. As a trumpeter, you hear the music from your position in the group. But a conductor hears it as a magnificent unit. It was totally different and it was wonderful.
The young troublemaker (his opinion) has found his calling. He then obtained a degree in music and led and founded school and professional groups and orchestras in northern Spain. Music was constantly on her mind.
In 2003, Mas-Arocas realized that his talent needed a stage bigger than Spain. He came to the United States and earned a master’s degree from Bard College near Boston and a doctorate from Bowling Green in Ohio. âI was accepted to Eastman, but I was intrigued that Bowling Green was just starting its PhD program. I loved it there.
Now that Mas-Arocas is no longer a young conductor, he finds himself digging deeper into the details of the music. âEarlier in your career, many conductors are too brash or too slow. As a more mature conductor, I see the pieces that I conduct more as a whole. But still, the classics (Mozart, Haydn, etc.) are the biggest challenge. I am a friendly driver. I am not criticizing.
Here are some of the most important offers from the College of Music. Check their website (listed at the end of this schedule) for a more complete list.
MSU Federal Credit Union Showcase Series
âThe Westerlies, Contemporary Chamber Music Guest Ensemble, Wednesday, November 3, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Songs of Comfort and Joy, MSU Symphony Orchestra and Choirs, Saturday, December 4, 8:00 p.m., Wharton Center
â A Jazzy Little Christmas, MSU Professors of Jazz, Saturday December 11, 8 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Wagner Chamber Music Competition, Friday April 15, 8 p.m. Saturday, April 16, 3 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Piano Monster, Saturday, May 7, 3 p.m., Fairchild Theater
Joanne and Bill Church West Circle Series
â Lift Every Voice, Monday, October 25, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
âBach in the USA Monday December 6, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Happy Birthday Mozart! Monday, January 24, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â LÃ©gendes, Monday, April 4, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
Ken and Sandy Beall Cello Plus Chamber Music Festival (20th Anniversary)
â A Night at the Movies, Tuesday, April 5, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Vox Humana, Thursday April 7, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â At Festival of Keys, Saturday April 9, 8 p.m., Fairchild Theater
Taylor Johnston Early Music Series, guest ensembles
â Forgeron harmonieux, Sunday, October 10, 7 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â L’Ensemble MÃ©dicis, Saturday November 6, 8 p.m., ThÃ©Ã¢tre Fairchild
â Aldo Abreu and Friends, Tuesday March 29, 7:30 p.m., Fairchild Theater
Worthington Family Foundation Opera Theater Season
â Three from the Hearth, A Domestic âDramoperaâ Wednesday, November 17, 7 pm; Friday, November 19, 7 p.m. Saturday, November 20, 7 p.m. Sunday, November 21, 3 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Albert Herring, by Benjamin Britten Wednesday, March 23, 7 p.m .; Friday, March 25, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 26, 7 p.m. Sunday, March 27, 3 p.m., Fairchild Theater
MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artists in Residence
âRenÃ©e Rosnes, jazz piano, with MSU Jazz Orchestras, Friday October 8, 8 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Lewis Nash, jazz drums, with MSU Jazz Orchestras, Friday, December 3, 8 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Stefon Harris, vibraphone, with MSU Jazz Orchestras, Friday February 25, 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Murray Hall
â Regina Carter, violin, with MSU Jazz Bytes, Friday, March 18, 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Murray Hall
Other special events and celebrations
â Spartan Spectacular, Spartan Marching Band and College of Music ensembles, Sunday, November 7, 3 p.m. Wharton Center
â Red cedar organ dedication recital, Sunday April 10, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., MSU Alumni
â 40th Anniversary Jazz Show, Final Concert, Saturday, April 23, 8 p.m., Fairchild Theater
â Messa da Requiem by Verdi, MSU Symphony Orchestra and Choirs, Thursday April 28, 7:30 p.m.,
â Groups 150th Anniversary Celebration, Saturday, April 30, 3 p.m., Wharton Center
See a list of other concerts at music.msu.edu/LIVEAGAIN